Red Dead Redemption: Inside the Reviews

  • Comments: ↓ 68 user comments
  • Publish Date: May 18, 2010


360 Version PS3
Red Dead Redemption (2010)
Critic Review Distribution
95 Metascore 95
28% % Critic Scores = 100 30%
97% % Critic Scores >= 90 96%

It's not exactly Grand Theft Horse, and it is certainly far more than just Red Dead Revolver 2. The game-of-the-year candidate Red Dead Redemption (95 for Playstation 3; 95 for Xbox 360) arrives in stores this week accompanied by stellar press, making it not only the top Western game of all time (admittedly, not a difficult feat) but one of the better-reviewed games, period. And while not quite the game-changing jump that separated GTA2 and GTA3, this new title --which cost close to $100 million to make -- certainly makes up for any disappointment caused by its much less immersive predecessor, Red Dead Revolver 74.

Like the Grand Theft Auto series from the same publisher (Rockstar Games) Redemption unfolds in a highly detailed, open-world environment -- in this case, the American frontier in the early 1900s -- which allows players to explore and engage at their leisure. If you've ever wanted a chance to live inside a Sergio Leone movie (without any of the real-world consequences such a lifestyle would bring, of course), this is it.

What exactly are critics saying about this new release, and is it really one of the year's top games? We'll get to their comments in a moment; first, let's see how Red Dead Redemption compares to other high-scoring releases from 2010.

2010's Best Games So Far - Xbox 360
  Game Genre Publisher Metascore User Score
1Mass Effect 2Action-RPGElectronic Arts96 9.1
2 Red Dead Redemption Action/Western Rockstar 95 9.1
3Super Street Fighter IVFightingCapcom 92 7.8
5BioShock 2Shooter2K Games888.4
6Battlefield: Bad Company 2ShooterElectronic Arts888.8
7 Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction Action-Adv. Ubisoft 85 7.7
8 Split/Second Racing Disney 84 9.5
9 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Sports Electronic Arts 83 8.3
2010's Best Games So Far - Playstation 3
  Game Genre Publisher Metascore User Score
1 Red Dead Redemption Action/Western Rockstar 95 8.8
2 Super Street Fighter IV Fighting Capcom 93 7.7
3 God of War III Action-Adv. Sony 93 8.6
4 MLB 10: The Show Sports Sony 91 9.4
5 BioShock 2 Shooter 2K Games 88 9.0
6 Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Shooter Electronic Arts 88 8.9
7 Heavy Rain Adventure Sony 87 6.2
8 Bayonetta Action Sega 87 7.5
9 Split/Second Racing Disney 84 10.0
10 Final Fantasy XIII RPG Square Enix 83 8.6

Games are ranked by Metascore prior to rounding. All scores are from May 18, 2010. Games with fewer than seven reviews and downloadable expansions are excluded. The Metascore weighted average of individual scores given by professional game publications on a scale of 0 (bad) to 100 (good). The User Score is an average of scores assigned by Metacritic users on a scale of 0 (bad) to 10 (good).

Below, let's take a closer look at what game reviewers are saying about Red Dead Redemption.

Overall concept and story

Players take on the role of John Marston, a former outlaw who goes on a mission to kill or capture his former gang members in order to protect his family after they are threatened by federal agents. Though the new game, too, takes place in the American frontier, events here occur 50 years after those in Red Dead Revolver, in 1911 -- the tail end of the Wild West.

With any sandbox-style game, of course, the narrative is only part of the overall package -- an excuse for playing in the sand, if you will. (And, as Eurogamer points out, for once, this is a sandbox game that has actual sand.) As you play, and complete the small individual missions that further the storyline, your sandbox grows bigger and bigger, encompassing more of the frontier and eventually even stretching into Mexico.

This open Wild West environment is one of Red Dead Redemption's biggest selling points, and, according to critics, it delivers in spades.

One of the richest gaming worlds you’ve ever seen. It’s packed full of beautiful mountains, rivers, forests and a fully-functioning ecosystem. --

Games Radar
The side missions and quests range from the little things like playing horse shoes or poker to big shootouts at bandit hideouts. ... You could spend hours just riding around trying to track down all of the components of a new outfit for Marston, or hunting wild game and picking herbs and desert flowers.



Red Dead Redemption's eco-system of coyotes, rattle-snakes, vultures, bears, and much, much, more is truly the seal on a game world that is bursting with life and absolute conviction in its authenticity.  We've whiled away many an hour hunting in the wilderness, skinning animals, and sleeping under the stars.

--Total Video Games

Of course, it's not all pretty scenery. The characters and especially the dialogue are also worth the price of admission, according to reviewers.

Yes, the game has a story; one full of betrayal, redemption, revenge, and a lot of other fun stuff. It's a good one, and I've enjoyed it. In fact, if you count all the Westerns I've watched, well, this is far from the best, but it's one of the better ones. --1Up

The characters are wonderful with top notch dialogue and voice acting -- all good enough to make you feel a part of the world. 


This is an outstanding game that tells a great story with memorable and occasionally laugh-out-loud-funny characters. --GameSpot

One complaint the latter publication has, however, is that your character sometimes feels inessential to the action, which can be driven more by other characters. This impression is seconded by GamePro:

And even though Marston's salvation frequently takes a backseat to the varied quandaries of these frontiersmen (and women), they're engaging enough to make players want to see their stories through to their just end.

However, others applaud Marston's role:

In John Marston, Rockstar have created one of their strongest and most compelling characters to date. --Telegraph

IGN's reviewer adds that the "shattering climax ... is amongst the best I've ever seen in a videogame." And they aren't the only ones blown away by the finale.

Red Dead ... culminates with a memorable, unexpected finale that strays from traditional storytelling techniques and instead relies on the sense of immersiveness only a video game can impart.



The good

Many critics point out that Redemption's many unique features mean that the game isn't just a GTA clone with cowboy outfits.

This is an evolution of the Rockstar Games' open world template, not a rewrite of GTA with equine quadrupeds replacing sports cars. --Boomtown

This isn't just a redo of Grand Theft Auto with a different backdrop, however. Rockstar did a remarkable job of taking only the elements of its past games that work while adapting the flow and the controls to the Western setting.


Reviewers seem to love the enormous variety of tasks available to players, turning what could have been a boring, repetitive game into something far, far greater.

Holy crap, there’s so much stuff to do here that you need never be bored. ... There’s cattle herding, duels, hunting, breaking in horses (not like that) and much, much more to keep you in the saddle for hours. --Games Radar

Red Dead Redemption's world is a far easier one to get sidetracked in than most. That's because in addition to the dozens of excellent and varied story missions, there are countless optional undertakings to enjoy. --GameSpot

Truly it's a game that keeps on giving. --Total Video Games

By punctuating every journey with side-quest offshoots, Rockstar ensures the game world is just as packed as Liberty City, while still maintaining that visual sense of isolation and loneliness that is so crucial to the Western. --Eurogamer

Critics also enjoy the game's morality system, which provides players with choices at nearly every turn: do the right thing, ignore bad things happening in the background, or actively be a villain. Your choices, in turn, affect how other characters respond to you throughout the game.

Morality isn't just a nifty gameplay aspect – it's hard-wired into the single player campaign. In the world of Red Dead Redemption, it seems, no action is without its consequence, and no one gets away clean. --Telegraph

It's a system that allows for a huge amount of freedom and then rewards you for exploring it. 



It's a great system, because in conjunction with fame and honor it really makes you feel like your actions have lasting consequences. --GameSpot

Not quite every critic loved the reputation-based morality system, however; Edge Magazine felt that it was too easy to instantly shift your reputation to suit your current needs, rendering the system "rather pointless."

Horseback riding -- a large part of the game, is "expertly implemented" according to GamePro (and seconded by other publications). The mechanics of combat and other actions are generally a source of praise, especially the "Dead Eye" slow motion targeting system.

Given the limitations of the era’s weaponry, Red Dead’s gunplay is surprisingly exciting.  --GameInformer

It’s only on reflection that we realise that we managed to blast through the story without buying a single new weapon. You might think this is BS, but we honestly didn’t. Why? Well the refined Dead Eye mode (hold L2, LT and click right stick) makes even the weakest of weapons 20,000,000 times more potent because lining up headshots in slow-motion is a piece of piss. --

Games Radar

Shooting while riding, for instance, or heading up your first cattle drive may take some practice, but the genuine thrill that these iconic activities offer make them both worthwhile and satisfying when they finally "click".


The bad

There were a few minor gripes about the gameplay.

The target assist makes attacking enemies while riding a horse a breeze, but it also makes the combat a little too easy at times. ... I died here or there, but rarely did Red Dead Redemption feel particularly challenging. 


Marston runs awkwardly on the ground and, for all the fluidity of the horses, you only need to take a tumble off an unforeseen ledge for the game to come grinding to an abrupt, awkward halt. ... In the details, there's a roughness that niggles, the execution lacking the grace and fluidity of contemporaries who perhaps reign in the ambition and scope in favour of depth and polish.


That publication, among others, also notes that players may become tired of the long, samey trips necessitated by such a large, barren playing field and such a slow method of transportation. Yet, there are shortcuts to travel (for example, stagecoach rides), and Total Video Games feels that the "procedural events" that happen at random give the game "a constant sense of momentum" and help avoid any tedium. These random events were enjoyed by many of the reviewers.

In addition, several publications noted some minor glitches, at least with their review copies.

There's a handful of bugs that needed a restart of the game, but ultimately these haven't detracted from the fun and entertainment that Red Dead Redemption offers by the bucketload.

--Total Video Games

The ugly

OK, so there isn't any ugly -- at least in any of the reviews published so far. We just couldn't resist the heading, in keeping with the Western theme.

Multiplayer mode

In addition to standard play, Red Dead Redemption offers several different multiplayer modes, both cooperative and competitive, including a capture the flag game. There is also a "Free Roam" mode which basically allows you to form a posse with other players and explore the full world, with a separate set of missions. Additional missions will be available in the future as downloadable content.

The reason to keep coming back to Red Dead Redemption for months and months is called Free Roam. ... Free Roam by itself is meaty enough to be an entirely separate game and it would still be awesome. 

With 50 levels and unlockable character skins, mounts, and titles, the multiplayer is a fully featured complement to the excellent single-player experience.


While it's true that GTA IV offered a much wider range of modes than Redemption does, it's also true to say that the modes in Redemption have been solidly crafted and the feathered aiming system is more complimentary to the multiplayer experience than GTA IV's. --Total Video Games

It's actually Rockstar's finest effort to open their worlds to online exploration to date. --GamePro

Graphics and visual design

It almost goes without saying, but reviewers love the beautifully-rendered Western backdrops.

This is simply a beautiful game, and it's provided more than a few moments where I completely forgot where the hell I was supposed to be going while riding over golden hills at sunset or through the desert in the middle of a nighttime lightning storm. --1Up

With desolate Mexican drylands, dust-swept plains, and the towering northern mountain ranges, Rockstar perfectly captures the untamed majesty of the North American landscape.  --GameInformer

Red Dead Redemption is, by all measures, Rockstar's best looking game to date; the game's masterfully crafted and stunningly detailed environments are beautiful to look at, and thankfully don't share Liberty City's brown, muddy "realism" filter. --GamePro

It looks and feels like the genuine article in every detail, from the ramshackle, imperfect wooden structures, to the unpredictable movements of a stagecoach as it travels over uneven ground, to the irregular progression of a tumbleweed as it is blown across a street. It may sound strange to remark upon how convincingly real a lasso looks in a video game, but consider what goes into accomplishing this. --Telegraph

Red Dead Redemption is a gorgeous game with an incredible attention to detail. The art direction, particularly the careful consideration paid to the color palette and geology of the land, is superb. ... Add in the smooth way the world reacts and moves and you have a game that is stunning. 


IGN, however, adds that Redemption "doesn't have quite the same level of polish" as other Rockstar games, with some minor animation bugs and other "visual hiccups."

Sound and voice acting

Sound effects? Vocal work? Soundtrack? All good, say reviewers.

The voice acting is supremely well done; there are moments when you'll think you're watching Deadwood, Unforgiven, or Young Guns. --Cheat Code Central

One of Redemption's most notable aspects ... is the game's superb audio design. Every boot step, quick draw, hoof clop, and gun shot drips with Wild Western authenticity, capturing the iconic essence of the lone outlaw in an unforgiving environment to a whip-cracking tee. Redemption's soundtrack ... admirably channels Ennio Morricone's work on Sergio Leone's classic Dollars trilogy, with finely assembled whistles, harmonicas, and trumpets subtly commanding the game's onscreen action. --GamePro

GameSpot notes that though the game "sounds superb," "the excellent soundtrack occasionally swells up without reason."

360 vs. PS3

While the game is virtually identical on the two consoles, graphics appear to be stronger on the 360:

It's clear that the 360 version has quite the graphical advantage. It's sharper, with much less aliasing. ... The PlayStation 3 version looked impressive, but there was a noticeable jump in quality while playing on the 360. --Ars Technica

Final thoughts

The Wild West environment of Red Dead Redemption is an immense technical achievement. The visuals, soundtrack and organic physics combine to suck the player in completely. It's easy to get lost in Red Dead Redemption – and this is true of it before you even start playing through the campaign.


Rockstar has not only delivered a kick-ass take on the Wild West era but they've done it with a finesse that satisfies every need of anyone who has ever fantasised about being a cowboy. --Games Radar

A game that may not quite reach the lofty standards of GTA IV in terms of defining this generation of consoles, but a video game that finally captures the boundless potential of the Wild West setting. --Total Video Games

It's one of the most appealing game worlds I've experienced in my recent memory, and it holds enough thrills to keep you playing from the very first bullet to long after the ride off into the sunset. --GamePro

This is the new bar that all Westerns must strive to reach. --IGN
Without a doubt, Red Dead Redemption will be viewed as one of the truly great games of this generation. --Cheat Code Central

What do you think?

Have you played Red Dead Redemption yet, or are you planning to? How does it compare to the GTA series or other recent major releases? Join the discussion by leaving your comments below, or, if you haven't yet, assign your score for the PS3 or the 360 version.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (68)

  • Grammaticus  

    To everyone who tried to correct "Richardo": he was spot-on about the misuse of the word "reign". It should have been "rein" in the context of the sentence that was used in the review. Ask your English teacher. This is basic grammar. Just wanted to make that point.

  • mark  

    c0lmen, couldn't agree more. that is why great articles like this are far more useful.
    and mike mike, game budgets like this aren't really a surprise anymore, gta IV had a similar budget and made like $500 million +, if RDR sells in the region of 8 million it will gross $320 million +, and heck it may sell more. a healthy profit no doubt

  • [anonymous]  

    I heard that it has a fast travel feature, so if that's true then it's automatically better than GTA4

  • mike mike  

    $100 million to make?? what the heck? that's blockbuster movie budget they really expect to make that back in vid games sales? wow..just wow..I guess there's a reason to line up outside gamestop..given the same group lines up for batman, iron man..or any other blockbuster movie.

  • Horgh  

    Personally, I love the "best of" summary of the various reviewers. Well done Mr. Dietz. The side-by-side comparison of key games elements is helpful and interesting.

    Based on the strength of this article (twice linked to friends), I simply cannot hold off buying this game any longer.

  • Adam  

    Well, the problem I have is that I agree with most every review so far. I went begrudgingly into this title and it's been 100% worth it. It's going to disappoint whenever the next Western comes out, possibly even the direct sequel to RDR.
    The easiest crutch-criticism is that this is Grand Theft Horse, and it's nearly true, but that's not a bad thing so long as you've at least enjoyed story elements to GTA4 and its predecessors. The game's arcs are better painted by the NPCs than the protagonist, but I've ended up feeling thankful for that - they're very well done.
    I've seen so many complaints about the hype alone that it seems some people are squarely intent on that alone.

  • Matt  

    Metacritic could be such a useful site, but it's still squandering its worth with funny math. Mass Effect 2 is "better" than Red Dead Redemption because of an arbitrary point differential? Lose the discretionary arithmetic, keep the links.

  • Keith E.  

    Thanks for the article, Metacritic (Jason Dietz in this case). I've thoroughly enjoyed reading through both this and your spotlight on Alan Wake. In fact, I was sitting on the fence over which game I wanted to buy, and I've decided on Red Dead Redemption for the time being. I'm not much for basing my decisions on critical reviews, but this game seems the more interesting (and perhaps better put together) of the two, albeit they are games from different genres. Looking forward to reading more of the "Inside the Reviews" series. Good job!

  • PhilC  

    Came a cross a guy who got off his horse and took a piss. Laughed out loud. That's detail.

  • Fenris  

    Actually his "snooty" comments Richardo is right about reign/rein... reign would be appropriate if the statement was “the execution lacks the grace and fluidity of contemporaries who perhaps reign in their place as the kings of video game creating" rather than “the execution lacking the grace and fluidity of contemporaries who perhaps reign in the ambition and scope in favour of depth and polish.” that reign should be rein as they are trying to "rein in" something like they would use the horse reins to do. But really that's just nitpicking... context tells us what they are going for. Anyways its also kind of dumb to make fun of someone's screen name as there are basically infinite reasons he would go for Richardo instead of Ricardo, maybe Richardo is his nickname with his friends who pronounce it like Richard with an 'o' at the end.
    *internet fixed*

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